Introduction: To Haunt the 21st Century

Quite a few people asked me about the name of this journal, it was mostly curious inquiries but there was some criticism as well. The word Spectre conjures many different connotations, none more omnipresent than the opening passages of the Communist Manifesto itself, but it doesn’t end there, we can’t forget the evil spy organization from the cold war days of James Bond, or Max Stirner’s infamous “spooks”, or even the generic haunting, ghostly figure from Travel channel specials. And just as Spectre comes with a divergent multitude of meaning, so does the nature of our haunting today. Are we haunted by the death of history? Or, even more specifically, are we haunted by the past, or even the past’s future? The word rouge in our name would seem to point to both. The spirit that haunts us is then the past of the workers movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. But that’s not actually how I came up with the name.

Spectre Rouge is also the name of an early French silent film about a demonic magician performing magic tricks in his lair, only to be interrupted by a mischievous good fairy. At the end of the story, the evil magician is defeated by the good fairy, who steals and puts on his dark cloak in victory. A rather entertaining watch, especially for the bizarre and fantastical images the spirit conjures. In the end, the evil seems to care more about its own flash and spectacle than anything else. I found this after quickly googling the name, and I’m quite glad I did. It’s not too often you come across little gems like it from the early days of film.

No, the real way I came up with the name is much less impressive. The word spectre came to my mind from James Bond (which was no doubt inspired by its earlier communist connotations) and the word Rouge I took from the popular video game “Dark Souls” where it was an item used to buff weapons. Indeed, despite the French roots, it was originally intended to be a wholly English phrase, whereby I imagined a scarlet cosmetic crème for ghouls.

To be sure, it was an absurd idea, but we are living in absurd times. This seems to be the only thing that we can agree upon across the political spectrum. One could write, and someone probably will write, novels about the bizarre, constantly evolving spectacle of contemporary life. Everywhere, simulacrum, the fever dream performance encroaches upon the concrete. It’s as if we are not far off from the woman in the Twilight Zone who discovers the universe operates in a purely stochastic fashion (but not too stochastic, as the logic of irony creeps in to restore order). Our fundamental system of capitalism and parliamentary forms of government remain, but increasingly it looks more and more unfamiliar. The more things have stayed the same, the more they have changed.

We are approaching a precipice, or perhaps we have already absent-mindedly gone beyond it not realizing that the ground has given way beneath our feet. The last great capitalist empire, the global environment, the neo-liberal consensus and even the economic power of developing countries all seem to be reaching their limits. The far left and the far right are both revitalized, one side hoping for a future fought for with solidarity and class struggle, the other wishing for a return to a bygone era by means of constant culture war and tribal violence.

In a scant few weeks of writing this the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution will be upon us. Needless to say, a lot has changed in those 100 years. In the days of Lenin, it seemed that the fall of capitalism was just around the corner, today however it seems more impossible than ever to imagine a future beyond capitalism. Of course, it may very well be that a future beyond capitalism will come knocking whether we can imagine it or not. If the socialist left is to be up to the challenge of creating a future that is better than the capitalist present, then we must face up to a lot of tough questions that cut to the very core of our existence, about democracy, identity, automation, work, ideology, power, states, and organization, among many others.

But the first question must be, has the left died? Hell, has the whole of history died?

To that we respond a resounding yes.

We’re all ghosts here, friends. And the present state of things are in desperate need of haunting.